Last October, I decided to enter an essay contest. The theme was ‘Life Lessons.’ Now that the contest is over I thought I would share my entry with you. Enjoy.
The American Dream
There I stood, on the deck we built with our own hands, watching my children’s swing set being disassembled … piece by piece … it felt like pieces of my heart were being taken down with it. It had been months since we had found out about the move, and we had slowly sold almost everything in our house. But, it was this particular moment that it suddenly felt real, not scary, but real. For the first time, my heart hurt a little. That swing set saved my life just a few short years before while my husband worked full time and studied full time to take MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). That swing set is where we ate our picnic lunches everyday in the summer. That swing set caused one of our first runs to the ER with our oldest son. That swing set is where I taught my daughter to hang upside down. As I stood there watching two strangers take it apart, I was almost breathless as a slideshow of photos played slowly in my head.
Was it really possible that we were trading it all in to move to a third world country? We were the epitome of the American Dream. We lived in suburbia, with two decent cars; three awesome kids; a yellow lab; and on a street that could have been made with cookie cutters. I owned two successful businesses, and my husband had a good job at a company he loved. We rode our bikes everywhere; we went for ice cream regularly; our kids were best buds with every kid on the block. It was a picture perfect scenario. But, something was missing.
At a very young age my husband, Christopher, declared to his parents that he was going to be a doctor. When we met, it was his quiet confidence and personal drive that drew me in the most. So, when he told me he wanted to be a doctor, I had no doubt in my mind that together we would do whatever it took to get him there. And then life happened. We had our first baby while he was still completing his undergrad; our second came just over a year later. We were both working full time jobs, and on the side, I was following my dream of becoming a model, which meant I was gone a lot. Medical school was always on the radar, but took a backseat.
Before we knew it, Christopher had been out of school almost five years. He applied to several medical schools and received interest but they were all concerned about his time away and suggested he go back to school for a semester or two first. We were past that point, baby number three was on the way which slowed down my modeling career, and we weren’t getting any younger. We were ready NOW.
SGU (St. George’s University) had always been in our mind. Christopher’s strongest mentor had attended SGU almost thirty years prior. We had talked about it several years before but the thought of moving to a different country with two small children just wasn’t our thing at the time. Well apparently with age, came a higher risk tolerance and curiosity for adventure. As I sat in my home office one afternoon, pondering our next move to make his dream a reality, I thought to myself, “why not?” So, I googled a photo of Grenada, pasted it into the body of an email, and typed “let’s go!” in the subject line. I sat there for a brief moment, took a deep breath and then hit send. By the next morning, Christopher had sent in his application and my whim of a thought had just planted itself in our life.
Well, it happened fast! Just a few short weeks later, Christopher was on a 3 hour drive to his interview with SGU. Being just days away from my due date, I was at home doing as little as possible to avoid going into labor. He called on his way home, “We did it baby, I think I’m in!” Even without knowing for sure, we decided it was best to start prepping our family and friends. That’s when life got crazy. We welcomed a new baby, and found out we were moving to a different country all within a month. Within days of learning of our acceptance, there was a ‘For Sale’ sign in our front yard. Craigslist was littered with all of our “gently used”, and “in excellent condition” furniture.
Everything sold quickly, including our house. Before we knew it, we were walking through the home we raised our family in, one last time. At first, there was just a lump in my throat and I reminded myself over and over, “you wanted this, you chose this.” I wanted so badly for the lump to go away; I was tougher than that. But then I realized, even though I wanted what was next, these were still the walls that protected the most important people in my life for many years. These walls were witness to many things that I will never forget. The countless workouts that took place in our basement fitness studio; the bathroom that my kids took a bubble bath in almost every night; the bedrooms that they transitioned from cribs to ‘big kid’ beds in; the living room that was venue to many family movie night and family game nights. We were engrained in these walls. As I finally let myself feel something, the tears came. But, the crazy thing is, they were all happy tears. We laughed, while we cried, and talked about all the funny things that happened in each room. Then we closed the garage one last time and drove away.
It seemed the moment the garage door hit the ground, life got even crazier. We hopped between a two-hundred square foot hotel room and staying with family. The kids declared they never wanted a house again; they thought it was fantastic, a permanent vacation I guess. We, on the other hand, were ready to have our own space again, but at the same time savoring every last minute with the friends and family we knew we wouldn’t see for a long time. The holidays added to the craziness that had become our lives. Between holiday gatherings we were packing our family of five into 8 suitcases for a two year getaway. We would pack, weight the bags, then unpack and re-prioritize what needed to go … then we would pack, weight the bags and unpack again. Repeat. Repeat. It was a never ending cycle.
Finally by the week of Christmas we were pretty much set and able to put ourselves on auto-pilot. It was time to enjoy our last week in the states, and more importantly, all the people we were going to leave behind. The kids were delighted that Santa was still able to find us at Grandma’s house. But as Santa arrived so did the goodbyes. It was hard, but I guess goodbyes always are.
And just like that, there we were, caravanning the three hour drive to the airport. As we waited in line to get our boarding passes, I turned around to check on the kids. All three of their beautiful little faces were all smiles as they stood there buried in our 8 suitcases, 6 carry-ons, 6 personal items, and 1 large dog. The hurricane of craziness they’d been surrounded by the last 4 months had absolutely zero effect on them. They were beyond ready for our new adventure. As I stood there looking at them, I wondered, “What are we doing?” However, after a moment of staring at their innocent little faces that were so filled with excitement and curiosity, I couldn’t help but smile and think how brave we all were.
As I sit here nine months later in retrospect, it seems so distant and so much less critical then it seemed at the time. The past nine months have been an experience, to say the least. We’ve learned to live without a lot. We’ve learned to be resourceful. We’ve learned how to all be together all day, every day with no break, and stay sane. We’ve learned, more than ever, how important it is to work as a team.
Most importantly, our children have learned to follow their dreams. They’ve learned that you may have to walk away from some really great things, temporarily, to eventually create even better things.
We, quite literally, cashed in the American Dream. We left it all behind as if the years we spent building it didn’t matter. And as difficult as it was, and as difficult as living in a third world country is, we wouldn’t trade this experience, and the lessons that come with it, for anything.